NC State and ACC basketball teams rely on transfer portal

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NC State’s Jarkel Joiner (1) shoots as Lees-McRae’s Williams Onyeodi (14) defends during the second half of NC State’s 107-59 win over Lees-McRae in an exhibition game at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina, Wednesday, November 2. 2022.

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It may have been unexpected, but everyone could see what transfers Alondes Williams and Jake LaRavia (amongst others) did for Wake Forest a year ago, injecting not just skill but wisdom into an otherwise rambling list.

So when NC State and Pittsburgh went down the same path this offseason, jumping deep into the transfer portal to add multiple veteran players — every ACC team added at least one transfer, some more than others — the Demon Deacons trainer Steve Forbes wasn’t exactly surprised to see them following his lead.

“It’s good for these guys if they can improve the roster,” Forbes said. “Because improving roster makes the league better.”

There have always been schools that have bounced in and out of the transfer portal like Doctor Who in the TARDIS. Fred Hoiberg was a magician at Iowa State (he had less luck in Nebraska, but he’s no longer an outlier either). Others relied heavily on transfers from junior colleges, as Forbes did at East Tennessee State. Traditional ACC powerhouses have always looked down on these methods. They built their rosters with top-notch freshmen. Their academic standards did not allow any former transfers to roam the campus.

But college basketball is a copycat sport, just like the NBA or the NFL, and not only was Forbes able to conjure an NCAA Tournament-worthy team and an ACC Player of the Year out of thin air, but he did it in one of the oldest schools. ACC schools.

It’s probably an overstatement to say that Wake Forest’s success made possible what NC State and Pittsburgh did this offseason, but it’s also not entirely unrelated.

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North Carolina’s Pete Nance (32) reacts as reserve players attempt to cross the century bar during the last minute of play against Johnson C. Smith on Friday, October 28, 2022 at the Smith Center in Chapel Hill, North Carolina North Robert Willett [email protected]

You can, in 2022, rebuild your roster overnight through what is essentially free agency. Some are tapping into the well, like the addition of Nijel Pack powered by NIL-cash in Miami, or trying to catch lightning in a bottle again – is North Carolina’s Pete Nance the next Brady Manek? — but NC State and Pittsburgh in particular have been the toughest, each bringing in at least three veteran rotation players, plug-and-play starters expected to contribute from day one with plenty of miles on the clock.

“That’s something we didn’t have last year,” NC State coach Kevin Keatts said.

Like Jeff Capel at Pitt, Keatts tried to build with freshmen at NC State, the traditional way, with a few impact transfers — like Devon Daniels — mixed in. But for whatever reason, whether it was the threat of NCAA sanctions hanging overhead or the brain drain of its staff, it didn’t work. Now, he’s not only improved his personnel on the fly, but surrounded the incandescent but still raw talent of Terquavion Smith with veterans from across the country.

Keatts wanted more depth, so he could get back to pressing and running and going nine or ten deep like he did his early years at NC State. But more than going back in time, he wanted to move it forward, to become not only better, but older.

From Mississippi, Jarkel Joiner. De La Salle, Jack Clark. From Winthrop, DJ Burns. From Utah, Dusan Mahorcic.

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NC State’s Jack Clark (5) passes the ball as Lees-McRae’s Drew Gardner (25) during the first half of NC State’s exhibition game against Lees-McRae at the PNC Arena in Raleigh, North Carolina, Wednesday 2 November 2022. Ethan Hyman [email protected]

Smith will still be asked to carry the scoring burden, but he will have a whole new surrounding cast. And instead of having another inexperienced player next to him in the defunct Dereon Seabron, it will be the SEC-hardened joiner, who, as Keatts puts it, “will let Terquavion be Terquavion.”

“In this league, you know when you start freshmen and sophomores in the backcourt, it’s hard to win,” Keatts said. “We have an older guy who has been through this. Played in the SEC. Hard. Really good defender. It’s a voice in the locker room. He’s our hardest working guy.

The Wolfpack’s roster wholesale renovations stand out, but everyone relies on transfers to some degree. North Carolina won gold with Manek and retired with Dawson Garcia last year. The Tar Heels will try again this season — in the same location, the so-called modern stretch-4 that second-year UNC coach Hubert Davis adopted — with the transfer of Northwestern Nance, who Davis says , should play in the NBA instead of Chapel Hill.

“On tape, you can’t do much. I knew he was exactly what we needed,” Davis said. “And then you combine spending time with him and relationships, and how he interacts with the other players, just the way he knows how to play the game I’m shocked he’s not in the NBA When you talk about the prototypical big guy now, a big guy who can shoot, pass, dribble, defend 1-5 and can move, I can’t believe he’s with us.

And Duke added well-traveled swingman Jacob Grandison and his own deep North West transfer Ryan Young to his usual list of a guy who’s back (Jeremy Roach) and a group of incoming freshmen, including most are knocking on the NBA’s door. (Dereck Lively II, Dariq Whitehead and a cast of thousands).

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Duke’s Jacob Grandison (13) driven by Mark Mitchell (25) in the blue-white scrimmage during Duke’s Countdown to Craziness at Cameron Indoor Stadium in Durham, North Carolina on Friday October 21, 2022. Ethan Hyman [email protected]

The head coach may have changed, but that part of the strategy hasn’t changed. Which means Grandison – Holy Cross, Ill. – is not only 6 years older than his new teammates, but has spent more time in college than they could combined.

“I have a lot to offer,” Grandison said. “I walked around the block. Experience is the key. I’m a veteran basketball player in college. I participated in very difficult matches. Been on huge stages. Performed in front of 20,000 people. Played at medium-major level. Played against one of our other graduate transfers.

Forbes, meanwhile, is back to the same place it was last November: wondering just how good a rebuilt roster can be. This one is younger, which he hopes means they’ll stick together, so he’s not back in the same place next November.

“I think it’s tough for the fans,” Forbes said. “The fans have the mentality, they want to see these guys for four years. Me too! But that’s not the world we live in, honey.

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This story was originally published November 5, 2022 7:30 a.m.

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Sports columnist Luke DeCock joined The News & Observer in 2000 and has covered six Final Fours, the Summer Olympics, the Super Bowl and the Carolina Hurricanes’ Stanley Cup. He is the current president of the U.S. Basketball Writers Association, was the 2020 winner of the National Headliner Award as the nation’s top sportswriter, and was twice named North Carolina Sportswriter of the Year.


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